Crossing the Pyrenees Mountains

Over the past month in Catalonia, we have marveled at its architectural treasures in cosmopolitan Barcelona, explored the medieval origins of its quest for independence, and walked its rugged coastline along the deep blue Mediterranean Sea. At the end of our month in Catalonia, we crossed the Pyrenees Mountains in search of a loftier perspective.

Cap de Crues

The Pyrenees Mountains meet the Mediterranean Sea at Cap de Creus

The Pyrenees mountain range forms a 305-mile (490 km) natural border between Spain and France, separating the Iberian Peninsula from the rest of continental Europe. It stretches from the Mediterranean Sea in Catalonia to the Atlantic Ocean in the Spanish Basque Country.

Human Tower

Building of a human tower (castell) at the Festes del Tura in Olot

On Esther’s birthday, we rented a spunky little Citröen, and started our climb through the foothills, stopping in the cheerful town of Olot. By coincidence, we arrived during the Festes del Tura, a traditional street festival including a full schedule of lively events. It was very welcoming of them to have live music, fireworks, and a confetti-throwing parade, all in Esther’s honor.  

Corcat Volcano

Croscat Volcano in the Garrotxa Volcanic Zone

The rolling terrain around Olot includes the Garrotxa Volcanic Zone, consisting of 40 volcanic cones and over 20 lava flows. Here we discovered the Croscat volcano, the youngest and tallest volcano on the Iberian Peninsula. Only about 12,000 years old and standing 620 feet (190 m) tall, the volcano is now enveloped in luxuriant vegetation thriving in the fertile volcanic soils.

Beech Forest

La Fageda d’en Jordà Beech Forest

Hiking through the hillocks of basalt lava, we entered La Fageda d’en Jordà, a legendary forest of Beech trees named after a poem by the Catalán writer Joan Maragall. In an enchanted land of moss-covered volcanic rocks, the late afternoon sunlight lyrically filtered through the canopy and enlightened its lucid green foliage.

Aiguestortes trail sign

Trailhead in Aigüestortes National Park

After leaving the foothills, we ascended into the high mountains of Aigüestortes, Catalonia’s only national park. Here, we entered a glaciated granite territory of sharpened peaks, saw-toothed ridges, and deep U-shaped valleys. Under the bright high-altitude sun, we easily followed a chain of glacial tarns to the reflective waters of Gran d’Amitges Lake.

Aiguestortes rainy day

Lakeside JM Blanc Refugio (left) on Lake Estany Trullo

On our next hike, thunderclouds filled the sky and painted the landscape in infinite shades of gray. At the top of the trail, hammering hail and pounding rain chased us into a nearby mountain refuge, where we luckily found shelter from the storm and a comforting cup of hot coffee.

Tower in Torla

Torla Tower and Ordesa National Park

The next day, we finally exited Catalonia, and passed into neighboring Aragon, stopping in the preserved medieval mountain town of Torla. From here, we visited Ordesa National Park for another hike and to see Monte Perdido, the highest limestone massif in Europe.

Monte Perdido

Monte Perdido from Cola de Caballo Trail

We rose early to climb the Ordesa Valley Trail to Cola de Caballo horsetail falls. The impressive park landscape includes massive sedimentary strata and mountain torrents falling over the bedding in stair-step cascades.

Ordesa waterfalls

Cascades on the Ara River, Ordesa National Park

Under the illuminated canopy of a volcanic Beech forest, beside the meditative waters of a high-altitude glacial lake, and resting atop a contemplative mountain peak, we had the opportunity to look back on our month in Catalonia. What we found was creative architecture, a claim for independence rooted in history, a rugged walkable coastline, and a loftier perspective by crossing the Pyrenees Mountains.

Es and Rental Car

Birthday Girl in Spunky Citröen

 

Feature Image: Estany Gran d’ Amitges Lake in Aigüestortes National Park, Catalonia, Spain

 

12 thoughts on “Crossing the Pyrenees Mountains

    • Being that Esther’s birthday was a travel day, we didn’t have much of a celebration planned. To our surprise, we discovered this festival in town. It was Saturday night, and everyone was participating in the party. It is surely one birthday she won’t soon forget.

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    • This month, it was good to move around to see the varied landscapes of Catalonia. The granitic parts of the Pyrenees reminded us of the Sierra Nevadas back home. We have the Algarve on our radar for a month next fall. Hope you are well.

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    • Thanks, Marty. The Iberian Peninsula does have a lot to offer, and it is tough to decide what to do and what to skip over. Like with all good road trips, you can’t do everything. In our one week crossing the Pyrenees, we only had time to hit the highlights – Joe

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  1. Funny, when you said that you had rented a Citröen I thought, “Wow, Joe rented a classic Citröen Maserati to drive over the Pyrenees!” But, now that I think about it, the spunky blue car is probably more appropriate 🙂 The scenery is gorgeous. I’m enjoying your journey and appreciate that you are checking out all the sights before my husband and I go on our trip 🙂

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    • Hi Janis, I know you and your husband are classic sports car fans. I had to laugh after looking up the Citröen Maserati. For us, the little blue car did the job, but the classic Citröen with a Maserati engine would have been a nice time saver, and a whole lot more fun.

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    • Thank you, Ann. We had fun on Esther’s birthday pretending that the festival was all for her. The Pyrenees are beautiful mountains, and have many features that you might find in the national parks back home. At times during our one week crossing, I was reminded of the Sierra Nevadas, Yosemite, Grand Canyon, and Zion.

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